Ant-Man and the Wasp, the sequel to the 2015 Paul Rudd vehicle Ant-Man, seems so far removed from the engorged Iron Man/Captain America/Thanos Marvel vortex that, if not for a Stan Lee cameo, it'd be hardly recognizable as an occupant of the same cinematic universe.
As it happens, the events of Ant-Man and the Wasp coincide with the events of Infinity War, released earlier this year. But the stakes are so dramatically reduced, compared to the genocide that the Avengers are trying to concurrently prevent, that one wonders if, like Ant-Man himself, the conflict was shrunken down as a kind of playful meta commentary.
In any case, it's frankly refreshing to watch a superhero film where the fate of the known universe, or, failing that, the fate of a city's total skyline and infrastructure, don't hang in the balance. Here, it's just Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a 40-something dad languishing on house arrest, roped into what amounts to a very pricey science experiment. The worst that can happen to any of these blithe and bantering nerds is a stint in the slammer.
Ant-Man's progenitor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) are attempting to rescue Hank's wife/Hope's mom (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm — a subatomic terrain better left unscrutinized — where she'd disappeared nearly 30 years prior. The quantum tech that Hank and Hope build on the sly in order to accomplish their rescue mission attracts the attention of a black-market tech dealer (Walter Goggins), the feds, (led by a bumbling Randall Park), and a villain named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who can walk through walls after her physical form was compromised in a quantum explosion (?) when she was a kid.
"Do you guys just put the word 'quantum' in front of everything?" Scott Lang asks, on our behalf, during one of the goofier scientific discussions. (Look, the science doesn't make any sense.)
From a visual perspective, two quick observations: 1) The opening scene is a flashback, and both Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer appear digitally youthened. Technology has advanced so far that these computer-generated images of the younger actors are indistinguishable from what they actually looked like back in say, Douglas' Basic Instinct phase. It's pretty remarkable. And 2) The sequel has aggressively increased the instances in which the film's titular heroes shrink and expand. Ditto with objects — cars, salt shakers, Pez dispensers, you name it. The gag is repeated throughout the film and makes for endless clever variation in the choreography of action sequences. Always, the filmmakers seem like they're in on the joke.
Final analysis: I enjoyed it, despite my superhero fatigue. I even laughed out loud a few times! But I spent most of the film's run time with a smile on my face. This may not sound like rhapsodic praise, but Ant-Man and the Wasp may be the most agreeable of the films in the MCU. There was no decision I hated, no performance that offended. At worst, a few of the third-act moments involving the Pfeiffer rescue were worthy of extensive nit-picking: E.g., where did she find so much makeup in the quantum realm? Overall, this is harmless, small-potatoes fun.
Directed by Peyton Reed, who also directed the first Ant-Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp opens in wide release on Friday.